September for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor had everybody playing out in the paddocks. We had rain, snow, and sunshine so everything is popping a vibrant joyous green. All sorts of weather = all sorts of fun, farming fun anyway.
It is early morning and we are sitting with a big pot of tea between us around the kitchen table, silently pondering the day’s plan. As if by mutual agreement, the first cup of tea is drunk quietly, with an odd gentle musing that trails off into silence. The trick it seems is to ensure the plan is clear BEFORE the pot of tea runs out – otherwise, we need another pot of tea and the morning is half gone…
Fencing. There is a powerful sense of determination and focus in this one word. It seems to hang in the air over the pot of tea. We ponder the hours already spent preparing the run and the hours ahead of us in putting the line up. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is gently warming, and the air seems to be sparkling (probably from the snow we had 2 days previously). We work quickly, grateful all the hard work has already been done by the tractor. Many times we walk up and down the hill along the line. Out of breath at the top, it is so tempting to lie down on the freshly cut grass, inhale deeply and count clouds with the dog. We are learning to appreciate good picnic weather is actually good fencing weather. Next time we will bring the food too and have it all.
bulbing starts Turban
Best of Turbans 2019
In the garlic paddock the early season garlic (Turban group) is just starting bulbing. It’s another 6 weeks before harvest. This hardneck (weakly bolting) garlic will not produce scapes announcing the start of bulbing, so it’s been a test of the patience to wait and pull at the right time, although nothing goes to waste really. With the start of bulbing the fertigation regime changes and we hope for no more extreme weather events to confuse the plant that may lead to unusual growths (garlic or disease). It is also time to mark up the best performers. The plants seem to stand that bit taller as the ranks are reviewed, vying for the coveted gaudy orange ribbon reward. These plants form the backbone of the seed crop for the following season. All the attention is paying off, the plants look strong and vibrant, and it is always a good sign when you have more ‘best’ plants than ribbons to tie on.
PSB at last!
broad beans in flower
The kitchen garden is starting to produce asparagus, rhubarb, chives, spring onions, parsley and rosemary. The brussel sprouts, kale and calvero nero are done and going to flower. The celery cutting from a supermarket bunch has found its feet in the garden – this is an experiment. After years of wastage perhaps now we can cut some when we need it. The broad beans are in flower, flowers mean pods so this is good, as are the teeny tiny heads starting to appear on the purple sprouting broccoli (PSB). Standing there pondering next steps (read what to rip out to make room for spring plantings), I can hear the bees smothering the mass of flowers on the broccolini, kale and calvero nero. It makes me feel less guilty about the lack of rosemary flowers. Just wait, I whisper, the borage and apple are about to burst into bloom, until then, go play in the pear blossom.
bee cruising calvero nero flowers
pear tree flower
bee glued to the spring onion flower
Jobs to do include getting started on herb seed planting, beans, carrots, peas, cucumber, sweet corn and pumpkins, oh and new vegetable beds to carry all this. And then fencing.
Book List – September
working through it slowing
do seed packets count as reading?
List is stretching it, as there was really only one book this month, an airport purchase for a long flight, you know how travel makes you think bigger, more worldly. And then you come home and it doesn’t seem as relevant…leave it with me.
When The Never Ending To Do List just will not loosen it’s grip on your stomach/brain/heart this is one of those positive cut throughs that just seem to help you regain focus. And, just in case you missed it the first time…oh and should you feel inclined, google Arthur Ashe, what a story.
August for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor involved a lot of hard physical work, all of which were just mere baby steps towards a future end goal. It reminded me of that saying “look after the present and the future will look after itself” (attribution unknown). So we persevered, we progressed and we stayed present.
Proof of dog
the garlic patch in snow
it’s all so very dramatic
We got snow. That is one of the extreme weather events we are now being warned to expect in the years ahead, as a result of climate change. At 2 separate workshops this month it was universally accepted our local climate is changing and the issue is now how to grow food (for our animals and ourselves) or garden in this new paradigm. Is it a farmer/country thing to be so very pragmatic? The initial shock has not worn off. There seems to be a subtext of: work has to be done with no delay. Anger, frustration, and blame attribution have been swept aside, leave that to the city folk who are under the nose of the politicians. We have land, animals and our livelihoods to protect. The whole global thing is out of our control, focus on what you can change before it turns into a mental health issue…sadly the drought means that horse has bolted!
Despite the layer of snow, the kitchen garden is still producing wonderful amounts of parsley, rosemary, spring onions, brussel sprouts, kale and calvero nero. The purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) and the broad beans are growing, even the rhubarb is putting up leaves. The asparagus is starting to peek its head above the soil, it seems to have a lovely purple colour this year. The tomato seeds, planted on the 11th are now up. They started off in an enhanced soil raising mix in a tray on a heat mat. Tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants require a bottom source of heat to sprout. Now that the 2 true leaves are out, it is time to take them out of the seed tray and pot them up to grow on ready for planting in the vegetable patch in November. It is a mixed crop this year, heirloom beefsteaks such as Macedonian Pink, Gallipoli pink, Mortgage Lifter, and Rouge de Marmande, along with 2 x cherry tomato plants in response to a new found love of Ottolenghi’s baked rise with confit tomato and garlic in his new recipe book Simple pg 174. This year there are fewer (barely!) but higher yielding plants.
Tasks underway include planting the pollinator pear tree (Williams) which will be espaliered against a wall. So far it has been a case of rock picking rather than digging!
The tractor was put to hard work this month, then again any digging in our soils puts pressure on any machine and person. The bee garden has been started with the planting of a hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) hedge and the working of a garden bed space to take the french lavender (Lavandula dentata), russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), buddleia (Buddleia crispa), shrubby germander (Teucrium fruticans), poppy (Papaver paeoniflorum), blue globe thistle (Echinops ritro), salvia (Salvia azurea), scabious (Scabious atropurpurea) and blue sea holly (Eryngium planum) plants and seed sitting in the nursery for the last few years. All blues and silvers, colours the bees love, as do we. All are water and wind hardy plants typical of cool and warm temperate climates.
sticks of hornbeam now…
the ornamental pear has popped, the bees are happy
The house build continues with internal wall insulation and courtyard wall building. We use a hollow concrete block, re-enforce it with reo and then pour concrete down the cavity. This system is very efficient and requires the ability to use and read a level rather than any bricklaying skills. It also appeals to our love of the historical use of bricks to build massive public structures that still stand today.
Pet inspection: “But will it provide us with enough protection?”
Trench = wall = concrete
feet, footings and formwork
wall up, reo in, concrete due
Book List August
Sent to me by a friend in the UK, perfect timing. Clearly I am having attribution of quotes trouble this month. Always a fraught process, never any offense intended. May the sheep keep you in the present here just that wee bit longer.
The practice of staying present will heal you. Obsessing about how thh future will turn out creates anxiety. Replaying broken scenarios from the past causes anger or sadness. Stay here, in the moment.
This July’s story of the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor is about cultivation, actual and metaphysical. Whilst the tractor actually cultivated new garden beds and holes to plant trees, the bigger story, is that we cultivated a new sense of home.
We have a rather strict policy of owner-builder monastic living – no comforts allowed whilst the house is a building site. It’s hard to live with scaffolding, building materials and debris in your space with nothing of comfort or decoration allowed in. Totally a self-preservation tactic. Keep it bare and uncomfortable and then we will be forced to finish this project. Or so the theory went. It is a building site not a home, yet.
In a fit of creative energy (obviously the benefit of having had a month of “fallow time” in June) we decided to clear out the overrun spaces to assess next steps. Clutter clearing is actually a central tenant of the minimalist aesthetic as it is thought the creation of clear space rests the eye, amplifies what is in the space and brings feelings of peace and calm. Much has been written about the power of accumulated things and the associated feelings of overwhelm, guilt and identity (see book list below).
And it is certainly true. In our case, the clearing of the space helped us to see the potential, nature-inspired home we wanted to create. It seemed to re-invigorate our inventiveness and resourcefulness. It has opened our eyes to see what we do have around us is very much what we were working to achieve all along. We have been cultivating solutions to long-standing issues, like in-floor power outlets.
It is early afternoon on a midwinter’s day, clear blue skies, the sun is warm on my back and it’s a lovely time to go for a walk to forage for materials to make a wreath. I am also cultivating a bit of self-belief and creativity.
I have always admired seasonal wreaths. Earlier in the month, a creative co-adventurer and I went on a small road trip to visit another friend and her shop. In the shop there is a wonderfully large and simply decorated wreath on display with which I am smitten. Both friends are wreath makers and kindly dismissed the excuses I presented for why I had not tried making my own. For a long time, I had blamed our lack of garden, the half-built situation, and my lack of artistic skill as the reasons why I was not more creative. All are utterly effective self-imposed limitations – how good am I at self-flagellation! But with the clearing of the clutter (trumpets herald) my imagination was firing and in the days following the visit I cultivated an idea of what my own wreath would look like. There were times I dejectedly accepted just having to wait until I could afford to purchase one. “Just purchase one.” is a full and valid sentence. Yet it made me feel frustrated. It has been my experience that usually the purchased model is never quite right. I want a wreath made of natural materials sourced from our area reflecting the season and this place; a very simple and large scale design; one I could recycle once the dust and cobwebs became too much. Purchasing a pre-made wreath would not meet these criteria.
Eventually one morning, in the early hours before the negative voices were awake, I pondered on how I could start to make my own wreath. First hurdle seemed to be where to source the materials. Twigs can be purchased or foraged from the side of the road, I need something bendy, long and thin, whip-like…suddenly I knew where I could try. And that is how I found myself walking purposefully towards a stand of self-sown invasive elm saplings in one of our paddocks, secateurs in hand. Now every tree is looked at with different eyes, possibly no tree is safe…this hits so many cultivation goals.
In kitchen garden news the broad beans have popped. We really enjoy this crop and so over successive years have never suffered from a glut. Another happy announcement is we have started harvesting brussel sprouts, first time ever in our garden, despite years of trying. Of the 2 plants, only one produced sprouts along its stem. We are hoping it will flower and produce viable seeds, always tricky with nursery purchased seedlings. Unfortunately, the small army of purple sprouting broccoli is just taking forever to produce any heads.
Fresh produce this month includes broccoli, brussel sprouts, calvero nero, kale, spinach, parsley, spring onions, rosemary, sage (we still have leaves), thyme.
Upcoming tasks include pruning (another wreath!) and fixing the espaliered pear trees, improving and cultivating the soil in the new vegetable beds and finding the right spot to plant the 3rd pear tree this spring.
brassica crop, those brussel sprouts!
broad bean seedlings
The garlic crop has cultivated further learnings this year, primarily to be observant and comprehend drought affects EVERYTHING. A weekly inspection revealed pretty purpling on the leaves of some random plants. The initial fascination with the prettiness of it all quickly shifted like a bad gear change, my brain lurching to “this is not normal, what does this mean?”. Thanks to the generosity of garlic growers far more experienced than I, it was quickly diagnosed as phosphorus deficiency. The next step was to identify if it was because the plant can’t access this nutrient or is there no nutrient in the soil to access. So began a long and repetitive process to test the pH of the soil. Our tests revealed the pH was not in the prime range for the plants to access the nutrients in the soil. Garlic likes a neutral to slightly acidic pH range (7.5-6 pH). Our soil was sitting around 9 pH, highly alkaline. Why? Because organic improvements and microbes need water to assist in the decomposition process to release nutrients into the soil in a form accessible to the plants. So July has been dominated by rounds of soil testing, application of corrective sulphur, rest, test again, correct, rest and test and it’s not over yet. Alongside the testing is the weekly application of tonics of fish and seaweed emulsions and watering to compensate for the lack of rain. It’s a lesson in better soil cultivation and management at pre-planting and during growth. I have been cultivating soil, skills and knowledge and a weeny bit of confidence to reach out when things are not going right.
Book List July
For those interested in reading more about the power of decluttering and the minimalist aesthetic and practice these are some of the books I have found helpful. Marie Kondo is very well known and probably available at your local library.
I hope you find this as funny as I do. Traditionally called the Warrior Pose in Yoga.
June for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor has been a month of trying new approaches. After an intense May, a new ethos to rest and regenerate, along with timely health check-ups, left the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor feeling very…torpid.
And we are not comfortable….so we must be on the right track?
The other day I came across the term “fallow time” used to describe downtime for people and how it is needed to cultivate creativity. Just like the period of rest we usually associate with growing crops to rest and regenerate the land. I don’t think this idea is shockingly new, rather a timely reminder to build rest into the calendar AND to respect this time for the positive force it can be. As a self-confessed overly focused task list type person who aspires to a more creative life, this idea stopped me in my tracks. I can not describe how hard it is to not have a task list or to explain what I did with the last day/week/month. How terribly limiting it is to view time spent being creative as ineffective, financially unsound or morally questionable (being a very short hop to the Judeo-Christian judgments of laziness and idleness, a definite sin against the productive economy).
All this dovetails neatly with the concept of minimalism. By reducing the ‘to do’ list, and allowing time to sit and reflect has profound impacts on understanding what we value, what brings us joy and how to appreciate and connect to the present surroundings. To make the time to live more consciously redresses the “cult of activity” and busyness.
To answer the question, June was spent learning to change our approach to include more creativity and reflection and less execution – and it was HARD! Frustration at not enough hours in the day (to be idle and productive – go figure), fear of judgment by others for being lazy, panic at what would happen if something did not get done, and worry about how to describe the day all featured. Acceptance, kindness and generosity, to ourselves and others, emerged. Best of all? A sense of release from demanding self judgments.
It’s past the Winter Solstice and the fire has barely been used. Our woodpile is standing tall, yet in previous years we would be halfway through a tonne by now. It is a reflection of both the extended warm dry conditions and the wonderful way the solar passive house design comes into its own at this cold time of year. We are entering mid-winter carrying an average of 14-21°C inside when it is -1-16°C outside and half a tonne of wood.
The warmer and drier start to winter is sounding the alarm bells for both the garlic crop and pasture growth. Our nascent regenerative grazing practice is getting a hard start. No matter how intensely you improve the soils with organic fertiliser inputs, strip grazing and tree planting, none of this matters if there is not sufficient water to dissolve and feed the nutrients to the plants. Last year we did not recognise the impact of restricted water before it was too late and the garlic crop suffered (great flavour but reduced sized bulbs). This year, even actively working the crop to nurse it through these dry times, does not feel enough. Only when we harvest later this year will we learn if ignorance or experience is bliss…’cause at the moment all I feel is anxious.
Trench = wall = concrete
Pet inspection: “But will it provide us with enough protection?”
The house build continues with the courtyard wall begun. The 2 folk have been busy digging footing trenches to take re-enforced mesh cages in preparation for a concrete pour, signaling the start of the courtyard build. The dog has been busy reviewing, inspecting and making minor adjustments. Co-Captain has patiently discussed revisions of the original plans, and accepted the walls just have to be taller and the footings accordingly deeper (read a tonne of more work) to achieve the dream space of our imaginations. Only he did not know that was his dream at the time. There is only lots of concrete, reo and blocks ahead of us now.
Broccoli in flower
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Sulking broadbean seed
The kitchen garden is a mix of positives and negatives this month. The blueberry plants have flowers (flowers = fruit) and the purple sprouting broccoli, kale and calvero nero continue to thrive. The broadbean seeds are yet to sprout and the peas have been pulled out as they did not develop any pods and it is now too cold for them. Surprisingly, the parsley plants are still doing well despite the frosts. This has been the best year for the parsley to date. Perhaps the rosemary border is offering more protection from frosts than imagined. Unfortunately, the pruning in February has resulted in very few flowers on the rosemary and may explain the lack of bees in the garden and why the late peas did not thrive. Tip for next year.
Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes broccoli, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, rhubarb, spring onions, parsley, rosemary, and possibly the last of the sage. Tasks to do include propagating rosemary plants and continuing to harvest and use the rhubarb. Baking goal this month is a rhubarb and ricotta tart by Nadine Ingham in her book “Flour and Stone”.
The point of doing nothing is to clean up our inner lives.
The School of Life, “The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy”
May means garlic planting in the world of the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. A total blur of everything garlic. Sitting around the kitchen table, ensconced in piles of garlic bulbs and cloves, buckets of soaking cloves, and cloves all laid out in neat rows for planting. Every step of the process is absorbing, tactile and bathed in autumn light. Happy days.
It wasn’t always this way. Gut-wrenching experiences of opening precious beautiful bulbs only to find them affected by mold, or quietly surveying drought damage as you try to comprehend the impacts on self, farm and income. The harsh reality you hold in your hand is a good crop ruined and future crops threatened. Yet in your heart the angst does not stay long because you have learned a lesson, and actually feel eager to implement improvements next year. This is what growing garlic does for me, it gives me focus, teaches me constantly and inspires me to try new things and improve. And I get my hands dirty.
And then I read a quote by the poet and writer Mary Oliver, who put it all so beautifully:
I saw what skill was needed, and persistence — how one must bend one’s spine, like a hoop, over the page — the long labor. I saw the difference between doing nothing, or doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort. Reading, then writing, then desiring to write well, shaped in me that most joyful of circumstances — a passion for work.
Change out “page” to “soil” and “writing” to “growing” and there you have it.
The kitchen garden continues to produce and feed us. Brussel sprouts are forming, a personal best with this plant. The broccoli has been harvested but thankfully succession planting is an option up to September so I see another feast situation evolving here.
The tomatoes are done. We officially called it with the final kilos processed only last week (mid-May). It was a bumper mid-season crop that came on very late in the season. A total haul of 58 bottles of cooked sauce (excluding meals made with fresh sauce), 10 jars of chutney, several containers in the freezer and gifts of many kilos to anyone we came across. Not sure if I’d include this in the “passion for work” idea now. Over it!
Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, rhubarb, spring onions, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, mint, and sage. Tasks to do include planting succession plants of broccoli, drying the mint, harvesting and cooking the rhubarb. Frost may have nabbed the best stalks but rhubarb is not a mainstay in our house so a little will go a long way. Although, I have been regularly amazed at how much better home grown vegetables can be so perhaps we will become converts.
Minimalism is something we admire and like many folks, continue to aspire to achieve. Our owner build has been a staged process of downsizing from a 250sqm city house to a 100sqm rented cottage and then again into a 45sqm module. We have now built 150sqm.
As we build and revel in the new space we have noticed we are not that eager to fill it with stuff. So it was with grit and determination we loaded up the truck and trailer with boxes of old gear and prepared to meet our dated, younger selves. With things in storage for so long, it made many of the usual questions about need/love/’what if’, and the associated feelings of guilt, almost redundant. Time and being out of sight has put distance between the object and our feelings. A well documented tactic I can vouch for now.
So, the expected grind gave us a certain ‘lightness of being’ that comes from having let go of items and their cohort of emotions. Our tactic to work through the gear in the shed, away from the house, ensured we had plenty of space to create the piles of keep/donate/sell. Or for vermin things to escape. Or we could shut the door in the middle of all the chaos. We did not get through it all, some boxes made it straight to the storage area as we got tired and wanted out (I suspect emotional avoidance).
I struggled with hanging onto unwanted gifts out of guilt. I found an idea highlighted by Courtney Carver in her book Soulful Simplicity very helpful. The true nature of gifts is in the exchange, the attributes of generosity, kindness, and love are not in the actual item. So by gifting unwanted items, you effectively continue the flow of generosity, kindness and love. We all know our world could do with more of that.
Booklist & Podcasts May
May was a month of tasks, with lists suspiciously multiplying overnight, lengthening and never shortening resulting in the triage of WHOLE lists not just items on the list.
A Basket By The Door by Sophie Hansen, will shift your thinking about how to be supportive in the country manner and introduce you to Miranda, the cake (pg 185) that could feed a shearing crew and that has fed 2 households on a few occasions already.
Podcasts are coming into their own, a wonderful way to avoid TV. I like how it works as a curated radio service only for me, with no callers or adverts to interrupt the lovely conversations I get to eavesdrop. Favourites include Letters from a Hopeful Creative, David Tennant Does a Podcast with…, Cooking with an Italian accent, Chat 10 Looks 3 and The Food Podcast. My very favourite, Dispatch to a Friend, is awaiting new episodes, as the 2 friends tromp over the Scottish Highlands, baking beautiful cakes and ravaging fields of flora.
What is interesting about the guilt of letting go is that the guilt doesn’t usually come from letting go. It comes from holding on. When guilt is attached to holding on, the only remedy is to let go. I could continue to feel guilt about past mistakes, about my past debt, clutter, and busyness. Instead, I’ve let it go so I can live today with purpose and joy.
Courtney Carver; Soulful Simplicity: how living with less can lead to so much more; pg 74
An April of delays and dry for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. The early signs of autumn were stopped in their tracks here as rains failed to materialise. Our weather has been cool, stunning, clear and bright as well as pretty dusty.
When we plan out a year of farm work, house build and garden planting we try to not overload any particular time of the year. This year the best laid plans have been sent asunder with the odd climate we have been experiencing.
Plan: February and March are months dominated by fantastic kitchen garden yields, in particular the tomato harvest. In the last March post, I lamented how the wonderful tomato crop looked like it was running out of time to ripen before the frosts of April arrived. How wrong I was. The warmer than normal conditions have seen the crop peak in April and I am harvesting 5kg a day of the most picture perfect fruit.
large, heavy and lovely
picture perfect toms
There are no complaints here. The house is swamped by all manner of vessels overflowing with beautiful tomatoes. It’s a daily mission to process the tomatoes into meals, soups, sauces, and chutneys. Friends and neighbours are now receiving kilos of tomatoes as gifts. This is all really wonderful.
Plan: April and May are my garlic crop planting months. April is the month of continued bed preparation, cracking bulbs, counting and preparing cloves for planting. This is when I get to revel in the beauty of the cloves, get hands dirty in the soil and generally play garlic farmer.
But the Plan is out the window! No happy garlic idyll for April. It has been too warm and dry to plant cloves out, at least not without an irrigation plan, something that is not usually required here. So the plan to plant garlic over Easter was shifted to a week later when the temperatures dropped below 25 degrees C during the day. Rain is due tonight and we have everything crossed in the hope of some coming our way.
The vegetable garden continues to thrive, as it receives supplementary watering, and the warm weather means crops keep producing. So there is this cross over between summer crops and autumn crops, tomatoes alongside broccoli, garlic coming up amongst the tarragon. Its just plain freaky!
this is a small space really
Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes tomatoes, kale, spinach, peas, cucumbers, rhubarb, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and sage. The broccoli heads are forming, the brussel sprouts have survived the grazing and the succession pea plants are just sprouting.
The garlic paddock planting has started. This year the focus was on improving the soil nutrition and we spent a lot of time applying layers of organic matter, manure and soil additives. This year the cloves were pre-soaked before planting. Pre-soaking the cloves in a seaweed and microbial solution is a great way to combat planting stress, encourage strong root growth (and in turn enable better soil nutrient uptake by the plant), and provides a bit of inoculation against fungal issues on the clove or in the soil. Our method is to use 25ml of Seasol and 50ml of EM1 Bokashi liquid, diluted into 1 litre of water. I can’t over state the difference it made to the cloves.
Turban group cloves pre-soaking
same clove 36hrs later – see the roots!
These cloves were soaked for 36hrs (don’t extend soaking beyond 72hrs) and they had already produced roots at the base. It makes it so very obvious now why I need to keep the water up to them, for the plant and to ensure the nutrients in the soil are made available to the plant. Where is that rain?
Planting in April is about the early season garlic. May is about the mid and late season garlic. We are effectively half way through planting the crop. They are bedded in under 10cms of straw mulch. This year we fluffed the mulch, unfortunately, the next day the wind picked up. There is straw everywhere but on the actual garlic beds. I doubt there is a solution here that does not involve construction of some kind of windbreak – but that is our whole focus here!
Processed with VSCO with g3 preset
Processed with VSCO with g3 preset
The owner-builder adventure continues albeit hard to show. We have used solid Tasmanian Blackwood timber around the windows and doors. It looks fantastic, but it is very hard to photograph in a way that reveals its significance to the build. Very early on in the project, we read the finishing stage would take the most time and money of the build. We did not realise it would also have the least impact on us. Seeing it actually finished is very, very wonderful and yet we are rather blase about it all, almost as if it had always been there. Is it possible that our vision of the finished house is what we always saw regardless of the amount of unfinished wall, bolts and structural steel on show? Or maybe we just know there is still so much more to do! Celebrate each tiny advance is a fair motto in such a mammoth project.
Easter of course! We do not practice any religion in our house but are lucky enough to live in a country that recognises this holiday period. It is a time to tackle big jobs or even plant the garlic crop but this year weather and travel commitments saw us very much eating, resting and spending time with our friends as we put hard work on the back burner. I made my first panettone, a significantly belated event given how many of these I have eaten over the years, and of course a batch of hot cross buns (sans cross). Both of these wonderful, easy and successful bakes came courtesy of Nadine Ingham of Flour and Stone bakery fame. I am a convert, both bakes will be happening again very soon, to help me celebrate garlic planting at the very least.
clearly some bun shaping skills required
Why did I only bake 1?
Book list April
I read this quote on Sarah Wilson’s Instagram page, it is with deep admiration and mirth I gift this to you my friends…
During March, the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor enjoyed the last few golden days of summer, and revelled in the cool change and rain. This month of season shifting is full of hope and energy. With the reveal of autumn, the leaf colour change, mushrooms in the paddocks and the orb spiders with their expansive webs, there is plenty of preparation. Garlic crop, kitchen garden, paddock tree plantings, and house build all dominate. The folk and tractor did run new fencing lines, worked the garlic paddock and lifted loads of wood, whilst the dog, well, she took to snoozing and catching happy rays on her bed, her plans well executed.
mushrooms = autumn
Ginger catching happy rays
pear leaves turning
still warm enough for rain
When we started our owner-builder adventure we thought we had thoroughly investigated and assessed all things building, finance and personal, making sure we had the means to achieve this big project. How do you prepare when you have no previous experience of this scale of project? Perhaps if you truly knew what was involved you may not start? There have been many amazing things achieved by amateurs in various fields of endeavour. They say fortune favours the brave (and, I add, the persistent), but note they don’t say the best financial managers, or the best at quantifying, or the smartest. It would seem whenever you embark on a big adventure you can not fully comprehend the whole project, all you can do is be brave, start and persist.
I have no regrets about starting this house build (and garden build and farm enterprise start-up). Apart from new skills, I have learned a little more patience, perseverance and to focus on what is in front of me, not the future. I definitely have moments of feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, wondering if the house build will ever end. Yet more often there are moments of inordinate excitement at the slightest achievement.
With the kitchen finished we are itching to progress the earthworks for the final house module, courtyard and western deck. Be prepared for way too much information on concrete mix (aka mud) than is socially acceptable. I also need to source a very very good hand cream. We enjoy this type of work, especially in winter, as we get a bit of a routine going and brickwork is so much more rewarding than plasterboard work, for us anyway!
The vegetable garden is a microcosm of wonder and angst at the moment. It is with joy (see inordinate excitement at small achievements above) that I can show a pic of home grown, fully formed, EDIBLE, cucumbers. We grew 10 fruit of 2 plants so there is a pile there to learn about maximising harvest volumes etc. But I’ve seen it’s now possible and that is a good space to find myself.
another flower another baby
baby sitting en masse
so many, so green
1m high asparagus spear
Frustratingly, the tomatoes are fast running out of time to ripen. I’m harvesting about 4kg per week but, as you can see, there is a stunning cascade of perfect green fruit, soon to be hit by pests or frost. At any whiff of a frost we will hoik out the plants and hang them upside down in the shed to encourage the late developers. We could source locally grown tomatoes to meet the 20kg min target but that is not why we grow vegetables.
We grow vegetables for the taste and health benefits associated with fresh organic produce; for the mental and spiritual benefit of a connection to the earth, the seasons and life; the constant challenge to improve yields, and survival rates; and to change the world view from blindly accepting industrialised mass consumerism. To grow some part of your food chain yourself is so empowering that I am beginning to think the TV show, Gardening Australia, is actually subliminally promoting a fantastically subversive paradigm rather than a helpful national gardening programme.
Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes asparagus (I so need help with this), kale, chives, spring onions, rhubarb, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage. Plantings I’d like to progress are broadbeans and peas. The broccoli and brussel sprouts are planted and busy growing, and being eaten by something largish that is not human.
seed with shoot
mountains of gold
soil improving but a way to go yet
pH 6.5-7 is the goal
The garlic paddock bed preparation continues as we barrel towards Easter. I plant our early season crop (Turban group) at April and the late season crop (Standard Purple Stripe group) a month later in May. This is just the time construct that suits us. The ideal time to plant garlic is when the seed (clove) has a shoot that is 2/3rds of the way up the clove. You can only know this from cutting a clove open, comforted by the fact you can eat it later, so nothing is wasted. From my experience waiting until the shoot is bulging out the top won’t produce the best bulbs, but still useable. For the seed shown here, some are ready to go now, yet others have a week or 2 before they are ready for planting. I just love how this plant accommodates our circumstances, regions and climates.
We have also been working the beds to improve the soil. Last season the crop suffered in size due to a lack of water and nutrients. Thankfully they cured very well, so this part of the production process is solved, for now (yes, climate change is real). In accordance with our regenerative grazing practice, we moved the sheep onto their next paddock so we could work the beds. This involves adding plenty more manure (sheep and chicken), household compost, lime, and microbial mixtures (EM1 Bokashi). We then dig it all in and test the soil pH, looking for a result in the range between 6.5 and 7. This creates a neutral environment required to encourage nutrient takeup, improve water holding capacity and encourage soil fauna and microbial activity.
Two standout events attended this month were the book launch of “A Tree in the House” by Annabelle Hickson and a Creatives Retreat at Mt Henry Homestead, Binda, NSW.
at the book launch
in a friend’s garden
foraged hawthorn now adorning my ceiling
Instagram has been a wonderful way for me to connect to like-minded folk, ask questions, be educated and find support. It reduces feelings of isolation (or negative mind babble) and is a source of inspiration. Walking into this book launch was like walking into a party with all the confidence of knowing everyone in the room, and liking them.
entree evening 1
breakfast morning 2 pic by @tomollycarcoar
dinner setting pic by @wrenandwhippet
conversations had pic by @jody_potter
The retreat at Binda was along the same lines, despite only knowing 1 person there well enough to call a friend. I now have 12 new friends, remarkable, creative, inspiring women who have gifted me so much. I stood in the same spots as they did, only they captured much more than I ever could. I am in awe of them, they are true creatives. And boy did we eat well!
The honeycomb picture below represents a quiet moment. I was surrounded by the sound of new female voices, a joyous cacophony of delight, cries of recognition, conversation and lots of laughter. All jammed into a country kitchen and magnified fantastically. Suddenly everyone, as if by some telepathic agreement, left the kitchen and I was struck by the quietness left behind, my natural habitat. At this moment I did see late afternoon sun bathing the kitchen table, warming the honeycomb and oregano and filling the room with the scents of late summer. I felt reassured and calm in this unfamiliar place.
Book list March
Inspiration to work with flowers, ravage roadsides and friends gardens in the name of creative license via “A Tree in the House” and the beautifully told story of a family and wonderful Italian food that speaks only love in “Tortellini at Midnight”. With all the socialising and farm work novels barely got a look in let alone stayed with me. Again recommendations from 2 female TV folk, who are clearly not my book type.
Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential
Sir Winston Churchill
A project is a statement of faith in the possibilities of our own growth
This February the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor were decidedly busy on all things NOT tomato related. For the first time in 6 years, our February was not dominated by the tomato harvest and preserving.
the tomato forest
French Rouge de Marmande
the harvest starts, slowly
The kitchen garden is producing well at the moment. We clearly have a tomato forest, despite the new trellis system, with plenty of green tomatoes just on the cusp of ripening. In the last 2 days of February, I’ve collected 1kg of our expected harvest of 20kg. A year ago I noted tomatoes do not need to ‘ripen on the vine’ to improve in flavour. Ripening indoors certainly takes the pressure off worrying about any insect attack. The kitchen garden supports a small flock of sparrows, geckos, and lizards who feed on the known bugs in the garden. I provide water and real estate in return. The generosity does not extend to the rabbit who has found the kale, just how do you remove this pest? Hopefully, once Ginger the Airedale terrier is back on free-range duty the rabbit will move on.
Best cucumber performance to date
a picked Pippen – lovely
rosemary hedge done
Cox’s Orange Pippen last month
It is with much joy I can include a picture of my first ever triumphant cucumber flower (with a sister flower hiding behind the leaf – that makes 2!) and our first Cox’s Orange Pippen apple. All previous attempts to grow cucumbers failed due to pest attack, lack of water, and wind snapping stems. This tiny, and I suspect, way too late to fruit, flower gives me hope for next season. Over the failed attempts I have learned cucumbers take much more water than you think and need plenty of protection of their main trunk. I adapted some old plastic pots which worked a treat. As I have not got past this point previously I am sure there are more lessons in store! For the apple, this was the only one of 8 to survive to picking, on one tree of 10 (other varieties). I confirm this variety of apple tree is tough. It has survived years of insufficient water, bad pruning, and sheep grazing. Takeaways for me, water every day, don’t let fruit set for the first 2 years to establish the plant, prune well and keep the sheep out. This apple represents deep patience and looks so good…and I’m too nervous to taste it.
This year I found the time to hedge the rosemary border before it set flower. This sounds at odds with regular wisdom. However, there were no flower buds evident and our autumn is sufficiently warm to ensure a good amount of new growth and flower before winter arrives. Rosemary is a major food source for bees here during late autumn and winter. Last year I felt pretty sick having to hedge the border during its flowering time, so much so that I did it bit by bit to give the hard-working girls a chance. It dragged on a bit, to be honest. I hope this approach will avoid such a palaver.
Fresh produce in the kitchen garden this month includes kale, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, basil, the last of the peas, tomatoes, and rosemary. Plantings to progress are broccoli, brussel sprouts and peas.
To distract us from the looming black hole of no tomatoes, we have put our energies into fencing new paddocks off for sheep, attending sheep farm tours and eating our way around local shows.
We had a great day visiting 10 local sheep farmers in the area for the Gunning leg of the Flock Ewe Competition (a friend of mine burst out laughing when they head this – I’m yet to confirm if its deliberate, which I highly suspect, or country charm). What hit home is how different folk farm differently and it’s been a god-awful year for most of them. We saw plenty of sheep, all in pretty good shape given the drought conditions, and plenty of sheds, some centuries old and others modern monoliths.
lovely old style
gals lining up
The garlic paddock is under preparation, with the sheep now camping in the area where the new beds will go. Where sheep camp is where the manure and urine are most concentrated. Along with mountains of collected manure, organic inputs such as vegetable compost and microbial inputs are my key method for developing our soils into rich dark earth teeming with microfauna and flora.
Planting plan this year includes cultivating the soil to a min of 40cms; heavily fertilise with sheep manure; add soil improvers such as EM1 microbial solutions, and vegetable compost; mulch heavily but ‘fluffily’; and water consistently rather than wait on mother nature.
I thought I’d show a pic of the best and worst garlic from my crop this season. It is disheartening when you get bulbs like the one on the left, but to give garlic its due, this plant, despite the lack of water, attack by Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, and insufficient nutrients, still managed to produce a bulb I can plant. This is what they call a super clove. Typically produced when a garlic plant goes into stress mode. It makes the call to put all its energies into producing one clove rather than several tiny cloves. If I plant this super clove out, in the right conditions, it will outperform a clove from an ordinary bulb. So all is not lost – what a remarkable plant to grow.
The owner-builder adventure continues with the delivery of the solid Blackwood timber we are using to surround our windows, door frames and the huge 4m shelf in the kitchen. We have saved up for this for the last few months and to see it safely inside the house is a moment of excitement. Does anyone else live with scaffolding and bundles of wood in their main living space?
Book List February
Audio book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which I thoroughly recommend.
It was a real mixed bag this month. On recommendation from ‘others’ I read the books written by Melanie Benjamin and I was left underwhelmed. I enjoyed The Wife by Meg Wolitzer as the voice of the female protagonist is very believable and authentic (now there is a word for the times). I’ve included Flour and Stone by Nadine Ingham (again) because for the first time ever I made choux pastry, as in profiteroles and eclairs. Oh yes, let me repeat, I can make profiteroles and eclairs, albeit funny shaped and sans cream.
I have (finally) discovered podcasts and the one that has caught my heart is Dispatch to a Friend by Annabelle Hickson and Gillian Bell. What I like about a podcast is that it is not like the radio where you have to suffer the comments by other listeners or topics on subjects from the far right or left of politics, or politicians for that matter! A key reason for why podcasts and audio books are now firmly in my life is that I have worked out I can knit whilst listening to them. How I revel in the double indulgence.
The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility – Paulo Coelho
This January was full of milestones for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. Another shearing day under our belt, progress in the house build and celebrating our first year of storytelling here on this blog.
Exactly a year ago, in the first post, I showed a picture of zinc coated kitchen cabinetry – bespoke in all the glory of the word. Time is a benefit to the owner-builder, not in an economic sense, rather the ability to take time in deciding design and materials. With the chance to experiment and explore the more unorthodox solutions and get creative in the process you too could end up with bespoke cabinetry. Below are pictures of the kitchen today, along with the construction phases, finished with the originally designed wood cabinetry. There are quite a few marine notes to this landlocked build, only out here we joke about how we may have mislaid the water and the boat but have plenty of wind to sail a house.
Framing the space
Walls: front kitchen
A range at last!
Finished: waiting on shelf
Bespoke zinc cabinetry
I am amazed at how much warmth the natural wood has added to this central space. After many test pieces we settled on a native wood to avoid painting construction wood, the use of plastic wrapped cabinets, high maintenance marble or highly reflective glass. Wood seemed to address these issues, was a medium we can work in with easy access. The next step is to add some greenery and personal touches that make cooking, sitting, discussing and working in the space all the more pleasurable.
Misty morning grass
I’m starting to see things
We have experienced the hot version of every season this month. Summer started bang out of the gates with multiple 5 day runs above 35°C – blowing the average number of 5 days in summer out the window. Thankfully these vile runs of heat have been punctuated with much cooler misty moisture laden mornings and afternoon downpours (read: heightened garlic curing anxiety). I note I only seem to photograph the rain days and not the high searing eye blinding heat days. In context, I never thought I would view a day of 33°C as a ‘cool change’ but either my new found climate adaptability or a new level of insanity is finally at play.
Shed interior, with tree
Morning rush hour
Wool press: old but working
Wool bale weight check
We had our 2nd shearing day just after New Year. Planning starts at least a month out in order to fit in with various crew commitments. Excluding death, fires and rain, the date set is the date you shear. This time it was the first of the 40°C heat cycles for the month. Even with a very early start, in an attempt to beat the heat, we were grateful this was a small flock. Shearing at this time of year was a new experience and with the time spent ensuring water, shade and safe cartage for the days leading up to shearing day we don’t plan to repeat the timing. It’s stressful on the human and woolly folk.
Tree = shade
Feel the mental relief?
Shade from mature trees is what we crave at our exposed site during these extreme weather events. Trees provide both shade and airconditioning on hot days, something all animals need. We don’t have enough mature trees throughout the paddocks and around the house despite our planting efforts. Without sufficient shade, the extremely hot weather makes rotational grazing difficult to implement in our regenerative practice. On a long list of limitations, we have yet to resolve having only 2 mature shade-giving trees on the property. These 2 trees need to cover 3 months of potentially super hot weather and accommodate 4 months rest between use. After grazing the first paddock, let’s say for a month, it is ideal to rest this paddock for 4 months to ensure sufficient regrowth of pasture. After the first month, the sheep are moved to the next paddock with a tree and once this month is up, where can they go? They can not go back to the first paddock, as it will risk over-grazing the plants. Perhaps in a year with normal rainfall, the pasture may have regrown more quickly enabling us to reduce the rest period – but that is not our experience this year. So we face opening up untouched land with very long grass and juvenile tree lots. Read plenty of fencing work and taking the tractor out into the paddocks in hot dry conditions. Something we always try and avoid to reduce the risk of starting a fire. Machinery, dry grass, and an unseen granite rock are all you need to create havoc. This requires another vehicle loaded with water shadowing the tractor. A tense day for all. One day, after much more experience and sound practice, our place will be a rare haven in times of heat stress.
Rouge de Marmande flower
Baby Rouge de Marmande
Baby San Marzano
Tomato trellis in action
The kitchen garden is ever evolving. The perennial rhubarb and tarragon are well established, the chives, spring onions and parsley are looking good. I have planted more peas and am trying cucumbers again. The tomatoes are thriving. This year I am trialing using a trellis system for the 2 varieties, San Marzano (Italian plum) and Rouge de Marmande (French beefsteak). The idea, from “Backyard Bounty” (ABC Organic Gardener, ABC books, 2017), is to reduce time spent staking, tying and thinning the bushy plants. I usually plant 20 homegrown seedlings in a highly fortified fenced off area in the vegetable patch. I do have to grow more than I need to compensate for humans, inquisitive sheep (fencing testers extraordinaire) and failing irrigation. Ruthlessly any plants that don’t make it into the secure zone are given away.
Book List January
I mixed it up this month, with a long and engaging listen to “A Gentleman in Moscow” on Audible and some print books. The audible book was over 17hrs of listening. I listened to it at night before bed, forcing me to sit still, like TV does, but with many more benefits. It definitely extended the experience of the novel because I am confident I would have read/gobbled the book much faster, but not managed the Russian names anywhere near as beautifully.
With all the hot weather I have really struggled to put myself near any heat source such as a BBQ, gas hob or oven. My reading list reflects my attempts to produce satisfying raw vegetable dishes, with the book by Nadine Ingram vicariously feeding any baked goods cravings. In the Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk, I came across an interesting suggestion that we need to move from being ‘less bad consumers’ to ‘producers’ in order to change the world from mass consumerism and industrialised farming. Putting utopian ideals aside, he suggests growing your own vegetables instead of purchasing organically grown vegetables, harvesting rainwater and cycling it on your land rather than buying a water saving device and so on.
Worrying pretty much all of the time isn’t a sign that something has gone wrong, merely that we’re properly alive.